Category Archives: Age UK London Blog

Dear Deceased, It’s Not About You . . .

I’m not a great fan of funerals, mainly because I’ve had such mixed experiences of them – but, working with older people, they are an ever-present fact of life.

As events go, they tend to bring out the best and worst in people (although local election counts come a close second), and it may sound a little ghoulish but people-watching at a funeral is a fascinating experience. From grace and fortitude through to seething resentment and, of course, wondering who finally gets their hands on Aunty Joan’s tea set, you see it all.

I’ve often wondered what the deceased would think about the people who come and about the event itself – which is odd because the main focus of the day is probably in no position to either know or care about what happens at their funeral.

So funerals are less about the deceased and more about us and how we cope with loss. How do we work the death into our individual version of how the future is going to pan out and what our role in it is – and this is where we can lapse into easy and old habits of behaviour, or reflect and maybe think about moving on in how we deal with the world in general.

Which brings me to Margaret Thatcher’s death and funeral. I’ve been very uncomfortable by some of the reactions, from the fawning adulation to the bitter hatred, not because they offend me but because of what it says about those people. It is easy to react by clinging to what we thought, whether it is hatred because of the miner’s strike or glorification because of privatisation, because it is safe and safety means not having to deal with the unknown of the future.

So I hope we don’t see any of either extreme; violence or worship – because when we disrespect the dead, we are only disrespecting ourselves.

It’s a myth that older people ‘block jobs’

older professionalsI was inspired to write this post by Jim Clements, who at 66 years of age, decided to return to work with a security firm after growing bored with retirement.

Thirty four years later he is still at that firm and, at the age of 100, became the subject of a number of articles where he was reported as being one of Britain’s longest serving office temps .

The news stories were interesting in their own right, but it was the public’s response that piqued my curiosity further.

“Very happy for him but it would be better if the firm took on a young person in his place”, wrote one contributor.

“Come on Jim, move over and enjoy your retirement and lets [sic] get some school leavers on the ladder rung of work!!!!”, wrote another -   enigmatically self-aliased ‘TT’.

While the majority of comments referred to Jim as an inspiration and wished him all the best, these were just two of many similar comments reinforcing the accusation that older people ‘block jobs’ for the young.

This idea is not novel to the media, as only recently, the Daily Mail ran an article with the headline: ‘Greying’ workforce is squeezing younger generation out of jobs after over-50s see 90% rise in employment’.

Lord Bichard

So what is the alternative solution for proponents of this discontented viewpoint? And how does this stand up when pitted against reported comments made by Lord Bichard in October 2012, when he said:

“We’re prepared to say to people if you’re not looking for work, you don’t get a benefit. If you’re old and you’re not contributing in some way, maybe there should be some penalty attached to that… Are we using all the incentives at our disposal to encourage older people not just to be a negative burden on the state but actually be a positive part of society?”

The ‘no win’ scenario of older people ‘blocking jobs’ or being a ‘negative burden’ on family and the state, is not only a perpetuation of a divisive ideology instilled across generations – it is also a distraction from the fact that older people, like anyone else  acquire  considerable, variable and multi-faceted capabilities which enable them to make valuable contributions. All that remains for them to be able to carry on, is for society to let this to happen.

The image of the ‘selfish older person’ job-blocking or being a burden, spectacularly fails to capture this perspective and  serves to reinforce misconceptions and discrimination.

The vast majority of older people have been contributing throughout their lives and, whether, like Jim, they continue to be in employment or not, they continue to be a ‘positive part of society’ in many great ways.

The economic climate is something we all have to face, but older people have a range of experience, knowledge and skills to contribute in an employed capacity in the workplace or in an unemployed capacity through providing family-support, volunteering, supporting viability of community services and much more besides.

Recent research undertaken by Age UK London, which aimed to capture older Londoners views, highlighted just this point.

The following provides some examples of a prevalent theme:

“I am appalled at the way ‘older people’ [are] portrayed by the media and others as the cause for the problems and insecurities of society. It causes one to feel as if you should just disappear; everything would be alright. Most older people are still fit and active and is [sic] contributing a lot by volunteering and also allowing the young people to work by looking after grandchildren and even great grandchildren.”

“I find the way older people are portrayed in the media as very distressful [sic],, with people being described as being a drain on the economy and depriving younger people of jobs, increasing their taxes etc. A great many older people help their families and their communities, with financial support and childcare support and are active volunteers in their local community.”

I worked from the age of 15 till I retired at 67. I paid full contributions and a private pension so I am not entitled to claim anything. I still pay a large amount of tax. All I hear is the older people are living longer and are a burden which cost the state. I have well paid my way.”

So, I think all credit is due to Jim Clements for giving his time and effort to a cause that is a source of enjoyment for him and value to others.  Credit is also due to so many other older people who continue to contribute in a multitude of ways, but who will never be recognised by the mainstream press.

Finally, and for the particular  consideration of those who  feel that older people deprive them of  opportunities to work -  it is worth noting that Jim is a former engineer for the MoD who is currently happy to go to work as an ‘office temp’. Perhaps there is a message in that somewhere…


Invisible Communities from Europe and beyond

There are nearly one million EU citizens living in London, and almost 100,000 are aged 60 or over, according to Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London.

It was partly against this background that we organised a conference on “Invisible communities: Working with older people from Europe and beyond”, with the Social Care Workforce Research Unit (SCWRU) at Kings College London and Making Research Count.

At the conference attention was also drawn to the fact that a much wider range of communities are included in the ‘other white’ and ‘other’ census categories.

The conference chair, Professor Jill Manthorpe (SCWRU), spoke of a “Eurovision”, rather than a European Union approach to reaching and including these communities. She highlighted that as distinct groups, they are too often invisible to local services and in discussions about ageing.

So the question to be addressed was: are older people from these communities facing particular problems?

As examples, we heard fascinating presentations about older Scandinavians and older Turkish, Turkish Cypriot and Alevi/Kurdish people in London. People from these communities had widely differing experiences.

Older Norwegian women who spoke to Professor Karen Christensen (University of Bergen), had mainly positive experiences of living in London and had not felt discriminated against. Many were in good health, active socially and in the community and not (yet?) worried about age-related problems.

On the other hand the Turkish, Turkish Cypriot and Alevi/Kurdish people described by Dr Shereen Hussein of SCWRU,  had much more difficult experiences.

Many had worked in informal employment for cash wages within their own community and ended up with no pension entitlement or social security record, not speaking English and socially isolated.

As older people,  some had made progress in overcoming these difficulties with support from services, but some felt hemmed in by language barriers and cumulative social isolation.

These different examples showed the importance of gender, socio-economic position, family and social relations within migrant communities, alongside possibly more obvious issues such as language barriers, immigration status and discrimination.

Drawing together different strands, Dr Nan Greenwood (St George’s University of London and Kingston University),  highlighted how little research exists which draws together the implications of age and belonging to different ethnic groups. Some of the ‘other white’ groups were particularly invisible in the research.

Dr Greenwood also drew attention to the range of health issues that are identified for particular BME groups, whatever the data limitations in linking ethnicity and age.

Jean Lambert MEP told delegates that despite the European Union developing and increasing rights for people moving between member states - ignorance and official inertia often stops people from enjoying these rights in practice and this could have very harmful effects on older people. Public attitudes to people coming from European Union countries are also changing for the worse, she said.

So what can be done to tackle the problems that these presentations revealed?

Under the Equality Act, public authorities have duties to promote equality, and this includes for older people from all ethnic groups.

Jo Moriarty of SCWRU, introduced a report which SCWRU has produced for Age UK.  She explained the  implications of the Equality Act on the  delivery of services for older people, such as falls prevention, day services, Home from Hospital, befriending and handyperson schemes.

The report entitled ‘Diversity in older people and access to services – an evidence review’ aims to help organisations to become more aware and improve their practice.

I found the information presented very thought-provoking and it seemed that many participants felt the same. There were valuable contributions based on anecdotes from the past which highlighted the implications of society’s  perceptions and understanding of the ethnic ‘other’.

For example, there was the story of the Anglo-Indian actress, whose white Caucasian appearance, led many to assume that the older Indian woman who accompanied her wherever she went, was her coat dresser. There is still speculation as to whether this darker skinned woman, was in fact her mother.

Another case highlighted how a Caucasian looking woman of half African descent died from sickle cell anaemia, because doctors misdiagnosed her illness as a result of mistaken assumptions about her ethnicity, which they had based purely on her appearance.

Although it is rare that we come across such cases today, we are still getting to grips with the notion of the European ‘white other’.  It comes across that many organisations know that there are European or ‘other white’ older people in their area but some are at an early stage in addressing the implications.

The  question that also remains to be answered is about what spending cuts will mean for work with these communities?

All of the presentations at the conference are online on the King’s College London website at




Dignity in care?

We recently held an event for Older People’s Forums in London to try to equip them to press for dignity in their local NHS and social care services–campaigns/dignity-in-the-capital/ What really struck me during the day was that everyone agrees what the problems are, but they still keep on happening. Some of the ones which came up in workshop discussions were:

Hospitals: rushed discharges with no advance notice or care plan, sometimes at weekends or even at night; lack of pain relief;lack of basic skills or basic communication by staff; decisions about older patients being made without consulting them.

It’s clear that key NHS staff recognise all the problems and want to drive positive change, but how to make that happen at ward level?

Care homes: lack of skills or training in working with people with dementia or who can’t express themselves; lack of activity and stimulation; staff either not treating people as individuals or not having time to.

Care at home: too many different carers in one day; the gender of carers specified being different to that delivered; carers’ times being too rigid – because travel is never factored in; carers have bad attitudes and practices – some don’t even give older people water or know how to change the sheets on a bed; carers don’t turn up.

I know that more money doesn’t automatically mean more compassion. But some of these are the same issues that have been pointed out over and over again in relation to social care funding and spending cuts. Might there be a more direct link between funding and quality of service in social care than in hospitals?

We were aiming to focus on constructive solutions, and the 90 older people participating came up with a lot of ideas. We have provided a written toolkit intended to help people challenge undignified treatment (which is available to download on the link above) and we plan to keep following this up with people who were at the event and to keep raising the issues!

An Englishman’s home is rented

I wonder if, like me, you were fascinated to see the roll out of news, blogs and opinions as the statistics from the 2011 census came out.  It’s hard not to process it through our own experience, our own families and friends.

I live in Hackney, which I found out yesterday, had the lowest level of home ownership in the UK.  I’m lucky enough to own my home, but I scrambled onto the ladder 12 years ago by the skin of my teeth. More people turn 65 in 2012 than ever before, a leap of 30% in a single year.  My mother is one of them, and she joins the ranks of one in six .  But the spike in the Baby boom is yet to come, when I turn 65 (and of course I’m not saying exactly when that will be) I will be one in four.

Hackney stands out, but in general the number of rented households has more than doubled over the past ten years to 3.6m.  The number of households in which the property was owned outright also increased, though not as sharply (0.8m).

I mention these separate statistics because there is a relationship which will have an impact on demographics to come.  It is generally the older generation that owns their home outright.  Who are the lucky ones?  Is it the older people, in their own homes?  Not always.  Many of those are holding on to an asset which they cannot afford to heat.  Or they expect to use it to pay for their care.  ‘Cash poor, asset rich’ is how it is often called.  The younger generation might have more  cash but it is being spent on spiralling rents.

I believe governments, individuals, communities and organisations need to look at these figures and learn, and start getting a bit creative, and think about what we can do in the next ten years, and the ten after that.

A recent creative initiative, supported by the design council, came up with a really creative way of bringing old and young to address their housing needs and assets. The move to community led housing, through community land trusts, a campaign supported by London Citizens, is another example of thinking anew.

Do you have any idea, solutions or your own responses to the census?

Natalie Turner


Reinventing the wheel?

Age UK London recently hosted a presentation from an organisation called care4care, and when I saw it I thought this is something I have to look at. Partly because of the need to tackle the problem of future care for older people, but I have to confess mainly because it is fronted by Professor Heinz Wolff – the archetypal professor from ‘The Great Egg Race’ in the late seventies. Along with Johnny Ball (how did he get voted off SCD?) and Johnny Morris, he inspired many of my generation to have an interest in science and the natural world. So what did he have to offer?

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Older pedestrians’ safety

Official figures show that older people are very much over-represented among pedestrians killed on London roads. This came out at a meeting I was at recently between Transport for London (TfL) and charities and campaign groups, looking at how to improve pedestrians’ safety.

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Hair of the dog?

The Panorama programme on older people and alcoholism last night highlights a growing headache for society, but Panorama’s solution is more likely to make things worse.

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Wanted: Government advisors. Must be over 60!

Yes, the reshuffle is the big news today, but I was more intrigued by the fact that George Osborne has a group of young advisors, one of whom is in their twenties. In their twenties?

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Older people’s contribution to London

Do you get tired of older people being labelled as “takers” not givers? It’s particularly annoying at a time when we’ve seen some inspirational older people carrying the Olympic Flame, for example a campaigner for accessible transport or the lady who took the Flame to Downing Street 

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